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A History of the SNCF

Stuart Jordan

STUART JORDAN looks at the French state railway.

The SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français) is the state railway of France, which also serves the Principality of Monaco. The French phrase “chemins de fer" literally translates as “path of iron".

SNCF run trains on 20,000 miles of track throughout the country, with connections to adjoining countries - including Great Britain through the Channel Tunnel, and are the second largest railway company in Europe after Deutsche Bahn.


SNCF 2D2 Electric Locomotive

SNCF 2D2 Electric Locomotive.

The existing French railway companies were merged and nationalised in 1938. Originally only 51% of the network was owned by the government, but now it wholly nationalised. The SNCF was made up of the merger of the following companies:

Chemins de fer de l'Est (Eastern Railways)

Chemins de fer de l'État (State Railways)

Chemins de fer du Nord (Northern Railways)

Chemins de fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée (PLM) (Paris, Lyon and Mediterranean Railways)

Chemins de fer de Paris à Orléans et du Midi (Paris, Orléans, and Southern Railways)

Administration des chemins de fer d'Alsace-Lorraine (AL) (Alsace-Lorraine Railways)

Syndicats du Chemin de fer de Grande Ceinture et de Petite Ceinture (Great and Little Belt Railways)

World War 2

Shortly after nationalisation, and with the fall of France to German forces in 1940, the SNCF was requisitioned by the occupiers, who also destroyed 350 bridges and tunnels on the network.

The railway network became priority targets for French Resistance, and the Résistance-Fer (Resistance Iron) was set up to undertake missions of sabotage. They also were crucial during the Invasion of Normandy, reporting German troop movements to the Allies.

French SNCF 150X Locomotive

Roco model of the Class 150X Locomotive. These were German BR44 Locomotives left in France after the war and reclassified by SNCF.


TGV Duplex

TGV Duplex Locomotive, so called because of its double-decker coaches.

It was decided in the late 1970s to develop a high speed train network, following in the footsteps of Japan, Germany, and Great Britain. The first TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, "High-Speed Train") line was opened in 1981 from Paris to Lyon, and there are now 1,150 miles of high speed line running across the country, which also connect with other country's high speed lines around Europe.

The TGV lines are some of the safest in the world, with only one fatal accident since it started operating when 11 people died when a test train derailed at Eckwersheim on 14th November 2015.

Rolling Stock

SNCF BB 522227 Electric Locomotive

SNCF BB 522227 Electric Locomotive, with its distinctive front end.

From the 1940s to 1970s many of the SNCF's locomotives were designed by designer Paul Arzens. He is responsible for the distinctive “broken nose" style on Electric Locomotives, with back-sloped cab windows.

In 2014 it was reported that SNCF had ordered the wrong size trains, and that they would be too wide for some platforms. It appeared that measurements had been taken on newer stations, and that the new trains would not fit on some regional stations. The blunder has cost SNCF over 50m Euros in maintenance work to rectify platforms. The French Transport Minister at the time, Frédéric Cuvillier, blamed the mistake of the separation the SNCF and RFF (the French equivalent to Network Rail in the UK).

Modelling the SNCF

Roco SNCF Locomotive

A large amount of locomotives and rolling stock are currently available to model the SNCF, from Roco, Fleischmann, Marklin, and Piko. Mainly in HO or N Scales, there are also a few items in Z and O Scale as well

CLICK HERE to browse all SNCF products available

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